where the writers are
Bonds book paints a tough portrait
Date of Review: 
Jul.19.2009
Reviewer: 
DWIGHT CHAPIN
Source: 
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

IT SOUNDED like a terrific opportunity, chronicling Giants superstar

Barry Bonds in what would become perhaps the best single-season performance in

baseball history, topped by an astounding 73 home runs.

Author Steven Travers, a former Redwood High School, USC and minor-league

pitcher who briefly was a sports columnist for the new Examiner, took on that

Giant book project when Bonds' special season was just getting started.

"In May 2001, I approached him about an authorized, ghostwritten

autobiography," Travers said, "and in June, he agreed to give it a try. I

spent the whole season covering him, and spent private time with him. The idea

was for Barry, in his own words, to set the record straight and get some

things off his chest.

"But after he broke Mark McGwire's record, he wanted so much money up front

that the proposed publishers did not meet the asking price, which left me

looking at nothing. But I found a publisher on my own, and it went from an

autobiography to a biography."

That ends up being a problem with the finished product, "Barry Bonds:

Baseball's Superman" (Sports Publishing LLC, $22.95).

Though the biographical format gives Travers a good deal more freedom to

comment on his subject -- and he has no hesitancy in doing that, with fact,

rumor and strong opinions -- it's short on insights from Bonds himself.

Granted, Bonds has always been a much more compelling (and more admirable)

figure as a player than a personality.

From the Giants' clubhouse to America's baseball fans, he's consistently

managed, off the field, to turn people off. A prime example of that is in the

collecting world, where -- despite his herculean season -- his rookie cards

still list in the same $50 range that they did a year ago. In contrast, after

his record-breaking year, Mc- Gwire's rookie cards zoomed from a low of $10 to

nearly $300.

But as well-known as Bonds' exploits as a player are, many facets of his

life remain a mystery.

Travers takes a good stab at illuminating the nonbaseball Bonds, perhaps

succeeding best when he talks about the influence (or lack of it) of Bonds'

father, Bobby, on his life.

Writing about the night Bonds broke McGwire's record with his 71st homer,

Travers says, "When he got to the dugout, Bonds took a phone call from his

father . . . who had opted to travel to his own golf tournament, which he had

long ago committed to, rather than be there for his son's big moment.

"Bonds did not make much comment on the matter, but the look on his face

while talking to his absent father showed, perhaps, some irritation. This was

not the first time."

Travers also writes incisively of things such as Bonds' roller-coaster

relationship with the press.

"One day a writer will get his time and a lot of love from Bonds," he says.

"The next day Bonds gives him what I call the 'Patrick Swayze effect' (as in

the movie "Ghost," when people ignored the ghost Swayze played as if he was

not there). Bonds acts like this sometimes, as if a man standing before him

does not exist."

Travers needed more of Bonds himself -- more of that private time he

mentioned with this very private man, time that, because of the circumstances,

he didn't get.

Give Travers credit, though, for turning out a portrait that is often tough

-- and far from one-dimensional.

"I wrote about a great baseball player," he said, "but also a controversial,

flawed man. It is easier to put toothpaste back in a tube than it is to write

Bonds' biography without finding some warts."

Travers believes that focusing on some of those "warts" led to a ban on

sales of his book at Giants' concession stands and stadium and Dugout stores,

and on interviews with him on KNBR (680 AM).

He's trying not to be too ruffled about that.

"The book was not meant to be a 'hit piece' on Bonds," Travers said. "If

Barry wanted a book that doesn't tell about his faults, he could have done the

autobiography with me."

STEVEN TRAVERS